August 13, 2013
Hi, so I believe this to be my first journal, so hello there. I have now been in Thailand for about 2 and a half days. And I have learned so much already. If I were to characterize what defined my first day in Thailand, it would be doorways. I don't mean that in a metaphorical sense, I really mean doorways. Naturally, Thai people aren't that tall, and naturally-- I am 6 feet and 1 inch. This combination leads to banging my head into many doorways. Despite having low ceilings and doorways, Thai people are extremely welcoming and very nice, which makes up for my resentment of their entryways. Although Thai people are very nice, they really enjoy their cultural customs, so be careful not to cross certain lines (especially with the older generations) or conversations may become silently awkward. To avoid such awkward silences, remember to: not touch anyone's head, don't step over people, don't point your feet at people when you cross your legs, and always bow first to the older person. Also, the people that I have met detest pacing, which is something I habitually do whenever I need to think. So just hold in all that potential energy for another time, and sit your butt down. Another thing that I feel is in need of discussion; Thai bathrooms. Most toilets are not flush toilets, but they look very similar (in Thai peoples houses, not at public areas such as gas stations, those look like large holes in a concrete slab). No toilet paper, just a bucket of water, and a spray hose, which is really not that bad. One last thing, remember to speak slowly at first, or Thai people will think your fluent and then begin to speak very rapidly, and if your like most exchange students, you probably can't understand rapid dialects of Thai.
This was Izzy Schwartz, keep it real, rotarians.
September 29, 2013
Hello all! I have been in Thailand now for.... I think about 45 days. So yes, I apologize how far spaced apart my journal entries are... but it's quite hard to build one's energy up. Not that I am sad, or lazy; I just always feel tired. And from what I have been told by my fellow FL exchange students-- this is a universal effect. But never mind about that such and so! I am in another country, and that fact still occasionally blows my mind.
Rotary will tell you many times that you will stick out-- but you never wholly understand that fact until you arrive in your country, and especially once you go to school. You become aware of your every action as a "FOREIGNER", and everyone knows you as a "FOREIGNER", and people say that you must be a certain way because you are a "FOREIGNER", and everything that you say is amazing to them; such as the fact that you listen to "FOREIGNER". As an extrovert; I generally enjoy the company of people, and their attention. This may affect ones confidence, as it has done mine. Which is great, because I was not the most self-confident young man in FL that I am today. Although do not let it control your brain-- it does not make you a superhero, and it does not give you the ability to say whatever you want. Meter your words, and take care in what you do and how you do it. You are in a different country, and that means you may have to act a little differently to conform.
More about my personal experiences! I am going to Trad for RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards), where me and many other exchange students in Thailand will go to listen to lectures we mostly won't understand. But it should be lots of fun, because there are many activities as well! So yeah, that should be a fun one, indeed. Also I have made many great Thai friends-- I will actually be going to a friend of mines birthday party tomorrow.
Hope you all enjoyed,
October 29, 2013
Dear world, this is Jeremy “Izzy” Schwartz-- with another recounting of my life as an exchange student.
This last month (my second month) has been peculiar for me-- I never noticed myself changing until I remembered that rotary drilled it into our heads we will not be the same person when we come back-- for the better. I haven't been sad-- actually I haven't cried yet, but I have felt sluggish and tired. Friends of mine here have reacted different ways in a few months. The two other exchange students in my town were simply sad-- they cried, they didn't do much, and they didn't participate in the culture as much as they should have. Which I'm fairly certain is very common; it's part of what makes the first three or so months so hard. I haven't reacted quite the same, I guess.
The first month I was bouncing off the walls with happiness-- everything seemed amazing to me, the food tasted great, the people were nice, and my Thai was coming along very well. Actually faster than the other exchange students in my entire district; all and all the first month was a breeze. Now I am 15 days away from being in Thailand for three months. Sometimes it feels very surreal-- I'll look about my classroom and find myself being taught about Buddhism by a teacher who shows up 30 minutes late to class everyday. I sometimes think about the words I'm saying and realize their in a different language. Sometimes I think in Thai, sometimes the non-acclimated part of my brain tries to fight it, but I am well on my way to being Thai. But something has been odd lately, it's not necessarily bad, it's just odd. I feel slow, my energy is depleted, I'm thinking about things from a different perspective, and the enormity of this exchange is beginning to press upon my temple, threatening to give into complete recognition. Is this maturing? Don't get me wrong, I feel great. It's just that I feel different; the knowledge that I will come back as an advanced variation of Izzy is peculiar to me. Great, but peculiar.
But enough about my life changing experiences, let's talk about the experiences that are changing my life. Last week I went to a beautiful mountain resort by the name of Wang Naam Kiew. It was my host mother's birthday, so her and all her friends from high school took a one day vacation. I also went to a coffee shop/sheep farm, and had amazing coffee and saw sheep, and also hid in a well-- currently my facebook profile picture. I then went to Thailand's 2nd largest city, Nakhon Ratchasima, and went to an awesome but very confounding market; acting more as a maze.
One note about Thai people; to all those future exchange students going to Thailand. If I Thai person does not an answer something, they will either mumble about nothing in particular, or not answer. This has infuriated me up till this point; when I came to the epiphany that this is their culture, and that I need to adapt-- not them. You will always think: “Oh but in America we do that this way” or, “In the States that's not good, or that is good”. Stop referencing to what you know is normal, come to Thailand with no expectations about culture, and merely absorb what you see. That is the best way to be an exchange student; soak in the culture that surrounds you, instead of trying to change it.
December 5, 2013
It is the 12th of December, and I have not written a rotary journal in what seems to be far too long.
So let us begin. I just came back from a father day celebration-- which is a much bigger deal in Thailand than it is in the United States-- not that people in Thailand love their fathers more, but because the main thing that is celebrated on fathers day (wan pa) is the big “daddy”; the king.
The celebration began with a bunch of very cute school children singing traditional Thai folk songs, and occasionally a single child would step out and sing TREMENDOUSLY. I don't know if this is just because the Thai style of singing is easier expressed by younger people, or just that my little city has 10 child prodigy singers. Either way... the beginning of the celebration was wonderful. Then different groups of young Thai dancers from cities around my district (municipal, not rotary) performed to traditional “Ram Thai” music. This went on for about an hour and a half, which was interesting but not extremely exciting. But what happens next! We all stood up with these candle holders shaped like flowers, lit candles inside them, and then stood up and sang songs praising the king of Thailand. One thing people should know about Thailand-- the king is extremely important to them and for Thai people; represents everything that makes Thailand the country it is. Disrespecting the king is actually a felony in Thailand, as in you can serve jail time for simply saying you dislike him. After singing songs to the beloved king (we actually sang the songs toward a massive portrait of the king) we then went out lakeside (man-made lake) and set our candles along the railing. While I was setting my candle down into the railing a massive firework went over my head that shook the ground-- not that the firework was actually that great in size, but it was about 200 feet away from the celebration. This proceeded with a great spectacle of fireworks that lasted about 40 minutes, and which was beautiful and reminded me of the Magic Kingdom...
I am coming out of a lazy period of my exchange; where getting the energy to do much more than eat, sleep, run, and play badminton took more energy than was worth it. Now, I was not depressed, sad, frustrated, or anything of the sort. I was just in a weird mood, but I am happy to say I fully moved out of that and I'm now trying to express my creative strokes wherever they might go. As of today I composed music, practiced my trumpet, played badminton, went to festival, and studied some German... just because I can.
Note to all exchange students-- the rotarians and rotex members will give you a general idea of what will happen to you whilst abroad, and while you should listen intently to every word they say; do know that being abroad affects every person differently. I have not been homesick; although I do love my family, my friends, my pets, and most everything else in Florida. I do not miss any of those things. It may make me sound like some horrible person, but I feel so well integrated in Thai culture. And although I do have my complaints-- I have felt quite at home for the most part. This helps that I have a fabulous host family who are quick to fit needs unsuitable to their own. They have gone out of their way to help me on many occasions, and for that I can't thank them enough.
Another story to demonstrate the ways and sways of Thai people: Today I ate 4 plates of food, and immediately afterward my mother called me fat.... I am completely used to this, because this is simply what Thai people do. They think that fat is a good word, because fat means well-fed and rich. I am 6'1 and 154 pounds, so fat isn't really the best word to fit me, as I'm actually trying to gain some weight right now. As I lost 6 pounds since coming to Thailand... So no, the idea that you will always gain weight on exchange is not always true; especially in Southeast Asia.
April 7, 2014
I, Jeremy Isadore Schwartz, am nearing the end of my rotary exchange. In about 2 months I will be leaving my pleasant little town of Kantharalak. Just thought I had to get that out of the way.
These last few months have been most interesting and jovial, a mixture of seeing my sister and family friend in Thailand for a week, my Thai improving, and going on my last big rotary trip with my fellow exchange students. Although it has been a sobering experience, as I'm beginning to realize that soon I will have to actually leave Thailand. In the beginning of my exchange I didn't think I would have any trouble with the return process of my exchange, but now that it nears, I fear my hands are more tightly wrapped around Thailand than I had imagined. A note to all future exchange students, never underestimate how much you will fall in love with your area, no matter how dirty, impoverished, or just outright peculiar it is. Kantharalak will always be my second home, and now I realize that more than ever.
I returned home from the southern trip just 2 days ago, and all I can say is that I am amazed at the diversity that Thailand has to offer. We spent about 2 weeks traveling around the southern part of Thailand, most of the time was spent island hopping, but we also had several stops in the ocean, directly located over coral reefs. Not only the islands were interesting, but also the people. The dialect and general features of Southern Thai peoples is completely different, with a more Malaysian influence in look and form of speech. The only part that I did not enjoy about the trip was being in Phuket, which was originally very hyped by the Rotarians in my district. Not that Phuket is necessarily a bad city, but it's kind of the Las Vegas of Thailand, and I don't think more needs to be said, not that it deducted anything from my experience in the South-- I will still remember beautiful beaches and lingering sunburns.
One last thing; don't underestimate how attached you will be to your fellow exchange students. Exchange students all come together with one thing in common, being a foreigner, and from that commonality you all draw together as family quite quickly. As much as I have fallen in love with Thailand, I think the hardest part of my exchange will be leaving my foreign friends; although I will miss my Thai friends as well, there is something special about the relationship between a bunch of kids who all went through the same experience, at the same time, in the same general area of a country.
Izzy/Ihteet(Thai for power)/KowPoad(Thai for corn)